I stepped out of the flight yesternight feeling happy. I would never have to do this ORD – LAX leg again, this is my last trip. I skipped along the jet way, and my sandal strap promptly snapped. Of course it stands to reason that this had to happen on the week when instead of carrying two shoes and sneakers, all I had was the pair I had on. And so, a few minutes later, instead of whizzing through the car rental place, I stopped by the counter. I asked the lady directions to the nearest shoe store. Like every Ethiopian I meet, she mistook me for Liya Kebede and we had a long discussion about Ethiopian food in LA before I got my shoe store directions. Stepping out, I felt a little sad; in my two years of frequent travel to this place, I have gone into the counter and met these people maybe thrice.
I was reminded of last Thursday, when I started to pack up six years of my life in neatly arranged boxes of three different sizes. Nostalgia was definitely in the air and it slowed me down considerably. But interestingly enough, this time I wasn’t thinking of this country's amazing buildings and the wide open spaces that I would leave behind in another week. A long forgotten picture of the Yosemite half dome fell out of an envelope. The magnificence of the half dome, the Ansel Adams gallery, the tiring treks, and the log cabin at the village where we stayed all come into focus, but there was something else. A memory clip that eclipsed all the others. It is of my friend, the photographer who decided to entertain us that night four years ago, and climbed into a wooden box under the bunk bed in our cabin to perform what he termed a Houdini act. He would be here tomorrow, I thought, all the way from Austin, to load up boxes and drive the truck.
Austin is Anoop, SLR in tow, a Mohanlal style muffler around his neck patiently waiting for me below the escalators at Bergstorm International airport. San Francisco is Shilpi and BM at the BART station, and as I get into BM’s black bug, the aroma of chicken biriyani that they just picked up from a friend’s takeout joint. Alaska is the innkeeper who spent a good couple of hours teaching me how to carve wood, and make headboards. Boston is J, with his plays and insects, watering plants and visiting cemeteries. New York is Stu with her men and her ideas, getting younger with every passing year, and now, there’s MR too, in her trendy UWS studio, all sensible and driven and trying her best to make me feel not so married. Key West is the homeless man outside Hemingway’s home, in Fahrenheit 451 style, memorizing every Hemingway he could get his hands on. Sacramento is TS, always the perfectionist and Raleigh is CJ, always the believer. San Diego is the stowaway from across the border who taught me how to make a mean mojito. Pittsburgh is J smoking pot inside her beat-up convertible, and of course Bill who every time I turn up in his apartment unannounced has what I call “What the hell is this woman doing here?” look on his young, innocent face. And it is these people that I will miss most (okay, okay, not Bill) when I leave the country for good next week. It is, after all, the people stupid.
On Sunday last, after we were done with moving, we took another of those architecture river cruises. A ninety minute lowdown on all the interesting buildings of the windy city. Right after a quick tour of the Wright’s Robie House in Hyde Park. An architecture day alright but as we stepped out of the boat onto Michigan Avenue that evening, my mind wasn’t on Jahn or Weiss, Graham or Khan, not even Wright. Instead, it was on the people I actually knew.